The Yankees and the 2017 All-Star Game

Judge and Sevy. (Al Bello/Getty)
Judge and Sevy. (Al Bello/Getty)

Despite recent events, the Yankees have the second best record (39-30) and the second best run differential (+107) in the American League. Many expected this to be something of a rebuilding year, one of those “step back and regroup for next season” years. Instead, the Yankees got off to a great start and remain in the thick of the division race as we approach the season’s midway point.

The All-Star Game is less than three weeks away now — it snuck up this year, didn’t it? — and given their play to date, the Yankees will undoubtedly have multiple representatives in Miami next month. They won’t be one of those “one token All-Star” teams. The internet tells me the Yankees have sent multiple players to the All-Star Game every year since 1992, when Roberto Kelly was their lone representative.

The 2017 All-Star Game rosters will be announced either later next week or next weekend. That makes this as good a time as any to look at which Yankees could be selected to the Midsummer Classic. In fact, let’s rank the 25 players on the active roster in terms of their All-Star eligibility. Shall we? We shall. Let’s get to it.

1. Aaron Judge

Judge is a lock for the All-Star Game. He’s received more fan votes than any other AL player this far — his lead over second place Jose Altuve is roughly 500,000 votes — and is on track to start the game in right field. The Yankees have not had an All-Star Game starter since Derek Jeter got the farewell vote in 2014. Even if Judge were to fall out of the top three outfielders in fan voting, he would still be selected to the game. His AL ranks:

  • AVG: .331 (second)
  • OBP: .438 (first)
  • SLG: .694 (first)
  • wRC+: 195 (first)
  • HR: 24 (first)
  • RBI: 54 (second)
  • fWAR: +4.4 (first)
  • bWAR: +4.1 WAR (first)

Flawless victory. Fatality. See you in Miami, Aaron.

2. Dellin Betances

Remember Dellin? He’s this really great reliever who used to pitch for the Yankees once upon a time. Betances did actually pitch last night. It was his fifth appearance in the last 24 days. True story! Can you believe that? It’s friggin’ insane. Anyway, Dellin has allowed one earned run — on April 8th — in 22.2 innings this season. He’s struck out 43 and opponents are hitting .117/.261/.117 against him. I think Betances is going to his fourth straight All-Star Game. I do wonder whether the relatively light workload — Dellin ranks 162nd among all relievers in innings (!) — will work against him. I don’t think so though. Betances should be an All-Star again.

3. Luis Severino

This is awesome. Severino was so bad as a starter last season. So, so bad. And now he’s a legitimate All-Star candidate. He has a 2.99 ERA (3.23 FIP) through 13 starts and 81.1 innings, and he is among the AL top ten in WHIP (fifth), strikeouts (fifth), ERA+ (fifth), K/BB ratio (fifth), fWAR (fifth), ERA (sixth), FIP (seventh), and bWAR (eighth). Last season eight starters made the AL All-Star team and so far this season Severino has been one of the seven or eight best starting pitchers in the league. He’s not a lock, I don’t think. But he should receive strong consideration.

4. Aaron Hicks

Hicks should be an All-Star this year. The guy is hitting .301/.414/.543 (155 wRC+) overall and he’s fourth in the league in fWAR. I mean:

  1. Aaron Judge, Yankees: +4.5
  2. Mike Trout, Angels: +3.3
  3. Jose Altuve, Astros: +3.1
  4. Aaron Hicks, Yankees: +2.9

He’s also seventh among all AL players in bWAR. Hicks wasn’t even an everyday player to start the season! He’s been awesome and he should be an All-Star. My guess is Hicks gets snubbed and instead lands on the Final Vote ballot. Maybe he’ll make the roster outright with Trout injured. There are only six outfield spots on the roster though, and squeezing two Yankees into those six spots seems like a thing that won’t happen. Fingers crossed.

5. Matt Holliday

Man, how awesome has Holliday been this season? He’s hitting .275/.379/.536 (142 wRC+) with 15 home runs and it’s thanks to him that the Yankees lead all AL teams with a 138 wRC+ from their DHs. Nelson Cruz is currently leading the fan voting at DH with Holliday roughly 300,000 votes back in second place. Making up that gap seems unlkely with one week to go in the voting.

In recent years there have been two designated hitter spots on the All-Star Game roster, so it stands to reason that even if Cruz wins the fan voting, Holliday could still make it. It’ll be either him or Edwin Encarnacion, who has been insane the last six weeks or so. Now, that said, the All-Star Game rosters were trimmed from 34 players to 32 this year. With two fewer spots, will they not take a second DH? Hmmm.

6. Gary Sanchez

If Sanchez didn’t miss that month with that biceps injury, he’d be a shoo-in for the All-Star Game. The guy is hitting .296/.376/.554 (147 wRC+) with 12 home runs. Only Salvador Perez has gone deep more times among all catchers. He has 15 homers in 257 plate appearances. Gary has 12 in 178 plate appearances. Brian McCann and Alex Avila (?!?) are also having All-Star caliber seasons and neither missed a month with an injury. I think it’s down to Sanchez and Avila for the third spot. Perez is going to win the fan voting and McCann belongs too. He’s been great. A few more Sanchez dingers over the next week could decide this thing.

7. Starlin Castro

Altuve is going to start the All-Star Game at second base, as he should. Dustin Pedroia’s injury issues mean the backup spot could come down to Castro (128 wRC+), Jed Lowrie (126 wRC), or Robinson Cano (111 wRC+). I suppose Brian Dozier (106 wRC+) is in that mix too. Name value matters in the All-Star Game. Here’s an important factor: will Yonder Alonso make the All-Star team? If not, Lowrie figures to end up the A’s token All-Star, which will hurt Starlin’s chances of making the roster.

8. Didi Gregorius

Can you quietly hit .321/.342/.500 (120 wRC+)? Because Gregorius is doing it. He’s been so good since coming back from the disabled list. And that’s the problem. The disabled list. Gregorius missed a month with a shoulder issue. He was already facing an uphill battle with Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, and Francisco Lindor in the AL. Those three dudes are going to the All-Star Game and they might be the three AL All-Star shortstops for the next ten years. Didi has been great. He’s almost certainly going to get squeezed off the All-Star roster though.

9. Brett Gardner

Gardner has had a slow June, but he’s still hitting .259/.341/.471 (115 wRC+) overall, and his 13 home runs are eighth among AL outfielders. The problem is Gardner is only the third best Yankees outfielder this season, and there are only six outfield spots on the All-Star roster. Judge is getting one of them. And if they pick a second Yankees outfielder, it’ll be Hicks. No chance for Gardner, unless he’s an injury replacement or something, and even then it’s a long shot.

10-11. Michael Pineda, Jordan Montgomery

A good but not great season for Michael Pineda, this is. He has a 3.56 ERA (4.05 FIP) in 14 starts and 83.1 innings — hey wait a minute isn’t Pineda supposed to be a ERA > FIP guy? — which is solid, but not All-Star worthy. Montgomery is right there with him with a 3.74 ERA (3.87 FIP) in 13 starts and 74.2 innings. Imagine where the Yankees would be without these two. Nice seasons, not All-Stars.

12. Aroldis Chapman

Last season Chapman did not make the All-Star team because he missed a month serving his suspension. This season he will not make the All-Star team because he missed more than a month with a shoulder injury. Also, Chapman wasn’t exactly lights out before going on the disabled list. He allowed five runs and 18 baserunners in 12.2 innings before getting hurt. Aroldis has thrown 14.2 innings this season. 14.2! No All-Star Game for him.

13. Chase Headley

Great start! Okay-ish June. Terrible May. Headley is hitting .245/.335/.362 (87 wRC+) overall, and by wRC+, he ranks 21st among the 24 third basemen with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. Better luck next year, Chase.

14-17. Tyler Clippard, Chad Green, Jonathan Holder, Chasen Shreve

Non-Betances middle relievers have a really hard time making the All-Star Game. Green and Shreve have been the best of this foursome and they’ve thrown 23.1 and 19.2 innings, respectively.

18. Masahiro Tanaka

Woof. Tanaka has legitimately been one of the worst pitchers in baseball this season. There are 81 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, and Tanaka ranks 69th in fWAR (+0.1), 74th in FIP (5.64), 79th in ERA (3.34), and 79th in bWAR (-0.8). Please be better, Masahiro.

19. Chris Carter

At least he kinda plays everyday? That counts for … something. Carter is hitting .201/.287/.384 (77 wRC+) overall and probably wouldn’t make a Triple-A All-Star Game at this point.

20-21. Austin Romine, Ronald Torreyes

Remember April? These guys were so great filling in for Sanchez and Torreyes. Romine is hitting .237/.258/.325 (50 wRC+) even after last night’s big game while Torreyes is at .296/.319/.374 (84 wRC+). The next backup catcher and utility infielder I see make the All-Star Game will be the first.

22-25. Luis Cessa, Domingo German, Rob Refsnyder, Mason Williams

If you had to bet a paycheck on one of these four guys making an All-Star Game at some point in their careers, who would you pick? I feel like German is the obvious choice here, though I remain a Cessa fan. Maybe Refsnyder will have a late career Jose Bautista breakout?

Others of Note

The Yankees have four regulars on the disabled list right now: Greg Bird, Jacoby Ellsbury, CC Sabathia, and Adam Warren. There is no firm timetable for any of them to return to the Yankees, as far as we know. Warren seems closest since he’s scheduled to resume throwing Friday.

Ellsbury was playing well before his concussion. Not All-Star well — he was still the team’s fourth most productive outfielder behind Judge, Hicks, and Gardner — but well. Sabathia was pretty awesome after his four-start disaster stretch in May. Good enough to be an All-Star? Maybe! He allowed six runs (four earned) in his six starts and 36.1 innings before the injury. Imagine he keept that up until the All-Star break. Alas.

* * *

I think the Yankees will have at least two All-Stars this year (Judge and Betances) and possibly as many as seven (Judge, Betances, Severino, Hicks, Holliday, Sanchez, Castro). Seven’s not going to happen though. Seven All-Stars is reserved for super teams. The Cubs had seven All-Stars last season and that’s only because the fans stuffed the ballot and voted in five starters. So yeah, seven isn’t happening.

My official guess is four Yankees make the All-Star team: Judge, Betances, Severino, and Sanchez. Hicks gets hosed, Holliday loses out because they won’t carry two DHs with the smaller roster, and Castro gets squeezed out by other second basemen. The Yankees haven’t had four All-Stars since 2012, when Jeter, Sabathia, Cano, and Curtis Granderson made it. (Jeter, Cano, and Granderson were all voted in as starters.) Four All-Stars would be cool. Two seems like the absolute minimum for the 2017 Yankees.

Are Holliday’s strikeouts a sign he’s selling out for power?

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Once the Yankees traded Brian McCann, it was clear they had two offseason priorities. They wanted another high-end reliever to replace Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, who were traded away at the deadline, and they wanted a big bat to plug into their designated hitter spot. The Yankees reportedly wanted another starting pitcher too, but that didn’t happen.

Rather than go for a big name DH like Edwin Encarnacion, the Yankees instead settled on Matt Holliday, who had never been a full-time DH before and had seen his offensive output, by wRC+, drop from 146 to 132 to 124 to 109 from 2013-16. Not a good sign for a 37-year-old! The Yankees took the plunge though, partly because Holliday would take a one-year contract, and partly because there were indications his underlying skills hadn’t slipped as much as his numbers indicate.

A little more than one-third of the way into the season, Holliday has been a central figure in an offense that leads baseball with an average of 5.72 runs scored per game. He’s hitting .270/.375/.516 (137 wRC+) overall, and his 14 home runs give him a chance to hit 30 for the first time since 2007. (Even during his best years with the Cardinals, Holliday was more of a 25-28 homer guy.) Home runs like his walk-off against the Orioles …

… show the ball still flies off Holliday’s bat. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve seen him hit a ball like that and think it’s a routine fly out off the end of the bat, only to watch it carry and carry and carry. He did it twice in the series in Toronto two weeks ago. Holliday hits the ball the other way with so much power. It’s no wonder why he’s been such a great hitter throughout his career.

Holliday is hitting better now that he has in years, especially for power, and in all likelihood there are several reasons for that. One, he now plays his home games in Yankee Stadium, a hitter’s ballpark. Two, he’s a full-time DH who doesn’t have to deal with the wear and tear of playing the field. At this point of the season, 67 games in, no one is 100% physically. Holliday is probably closest on the Yankees because he’s off his feet so much.

And three, there are some indications Holliday is a different hitter now than he was last year and really the last few years. The single biggest difference between Holliday right now and the Holliday of the past is the strikeouts. He has a 25.4% strikeout rate at the moment, by far the highest of his career. His previous career high was 19.6% as a rookie in 2004. His career average is 16.7% strikeouts. Look:

matt-holliday-strikeout-rate

Usually when a player on the wrong side of 35 sees his strikeout rate spike that like, it comes with a massive drop in production. That isn’t the case with Holliday. He’s been more productive this season than he has been in three or four years now. I don’t doubt that Holliday has lost some bat speed — he is 37, after all — but clearly he hasn’t lost so much that he is incapable of being an impact hitter.

Soon after Holliday signed with the Yankees, he said he wanted to do a better job getting the ball airborne. He hit way too many grounders last season. Exactly half his batted balls, in fact. So far this season Holliday’s ground ball rate has dropped to 45.1%, his lowest since 2010, and he’s also pulling the ball more often. His 39.2% pull rate is a career high and quite a bit above his career 35.1% pull rate.

More strikeouts plus more fly balls plus more balls pulled to left field? Could it be an indication Holliday is selling out for power this season? I think it’s a possibility. I should note that while a 39.2% pull rate is high for Holliday, it’s actually below the MLB average. The league average pull rate is 39.9% this year. We’ve seen some really pull happy hitters over the years, like Brian McCann (50.0% in 2016). Holliday isn’t pulling the ball that much.

What I think may be happening is Holliday is selling out for power selectively. In certain situations he’ll look for a pitch, really try to unload on it, and hope he connects. If he does, great! If not, well, better luck next time. Holliday may be selling out for power, but he hasn’t completely sacrificed his all-fields approach either. Like I said earlier, we’ve seen him really muscle some balls out to center and right-center. Here’s his spray chart, via Baseball Savant:

matt-holliday-sprau-chart1

If Holliday is selling out for power — and I don’t know that he is, it’s just a theory — he’s managed to do it in a way that doesn’t compromise his ability to take the ball the other way. McCann, for example, looked to pull just about every pitch because, as a left-handed hitter, he would be rewarded for doing so at Yankee Stadium. Holliday, as a righty, still has incentive to go the other way.

The Yankees avoided the big flashy move over the winter, which would have been signing Encarnacion, and they opted for the most sensible move in signing Holliday to a one-year contract. And so far, it couldn’t be working out any better. Holliday has transitioned to DH seamlessly — lots of guys struggle with that after playing the field every day basically their entire lives — and he’s producing more than he has in years. And he seems to be a positive influence on the young players too.

As an older player, Holliday has inevitably had to make adjustments to remain successful, and it seems his latest adjustment may involve picking his spots to swing out of his shoes. If he swings and misses, so be it. That’s the trade off. That he’s been able to do that, pull the ball and get it in the air more often, without sacrificing his all-fields ability is pretty damn impressive. Yeah, Holliday may be striking out more than ever before, but the strikeouts have come with his best offensive season in years.

Yankeemetrics: Power up, Pineda down (June 1-4)

(Getty)
(Getty)

El Gary dropping bombs
Fresh off a depressing series loss in Baltimore, the Yankees headed to Toronto on Thursday and bounced back in style as they routed the Blue Jays, 12-2. It was their first double-digit win at the Rogers Center in 13 years – since Aug. 28, 2004, a game that featured Tony Clark’s three-homer outburst and a nine-run ninth inning en route to a 18-6 victory.

The offensive fireworks were fueled by Gary Sanchez and Aaron Hicks, who combined to drive in nine of the team’s 12 runs. Sanchez crushed two mammoth homers into the second deck in left field: the first one traveled 440 feet and had an exit velocity of 113 mph; the second one measured at 434 feet and left the bat at 112 mph.

Only two other players in the last three seasons have hit two homers in the same game that went at least 430 feet with an exit velo of 110-mph or more: Giancarlo Stanton (May 7 this year and July 6, 2016) and Mark Trumbo (June 2, 2016).

Remarkably, each of Sanchez’s six longballs this season have gone at least 425 feet. That gave him an early first-place ranking on the average home run distance leaderboard (434 feet) among players with at least five dingers this season.

And here’s an even more impressive feat: this was Sanchez’s fourth big-league game with two homers, making him the first player in major-league history to have four multi-homer games as a catcher this early into a career (82nd game).

Sanchez, though, had to share the spotlight with the scorching-hot Aaron Hicks, who went 4-for-5 and drove in a career-best six runs. He became the third Yankee centerfielder with at least four hits and six RBIs in any game, joining two legends – Bernie Williams (June 17, 2000) and Joe DiMaggio (five times!).

(AP)
(AP)

Small Mike
The Comeback Kings were denied another improbable win as the Yankees late inning rally fell short in their 7-5 loss on Friday night at the Rogers Centre.

Michael Pineda went from #BigMike to #BigMess with a season-high five runs allowed that snapped his nine-start streak of giving up three earned runs or fewer. That streak was one start shy of the longest by any pitcher in the majors this season.

Pineda’s early-game troubles re-surfaced as the Blue Jays belted two homers in first inning, the fifth and sixth he’s given up in the opening frame. His six first-inning homers allowed were tied for the most in MLB entering the weekend and opponents are slugging .674 against him in the first inning. So he basically turns every batter into Aaron Judge (.691 slugging through Friday) in the first inning. Not good, Mike.

Aaron Judge did Aaron Judge things in the sixth inning with a towering two-run blast into the rightfield seats, showing off his incredible all-fields power. That was his fifth opposite-field home run – tied for the most in the majors – and upped his opposite-field slugging percentage to an MLB-best 1.259(!).

(Getty)
(Getty)

Chicks dig the longball
The Yankees once again flexed their muscles in a 7-0 rout of the Blue Jays on Saturday afternoon for their largest shutout win at the Rogers Centre/SkyDome in nearly 20 years (8-0 win on July 5, 1997).

Their first four hits were doubles and their final four hits were homers, making this first game in Yankees history that they had at least eight hits and none of them were singles. In fact, only three other teams in major-league history have done that: Cardinals with eight in 2002, Tigers with eight in 2010, and Braves with nine in 1998. #FunFact

Those four longballs all came in the eighth inning, courtesy of Brett Gardner, Matt Holliday, Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius.

It was the fourth time in franchise history that the Bronx Bombers hit four homers in a single inning. The first time it happened was June 30, 1977 … also in the eighth inning … against the Blue Jays … in Toronto (at Exhibition Stadium). The other two times were on June 21, 2005 against the Devil Rays and October 1, 2012 against the Red Sox, both of them at Yankee Stadium.

Perhaps the most shocking part of the eighth frame was that Aaron Judge was left out of the homer party. He did contribute a booming RBI double to center in the third inning, a bullet line drive that left his bat at 116 mph. It was his fifth hit with exit velocity of at least 116 mph; the other 1,000-plus MLB players this season had combined for seven such hits (through Saturday).

Overshadowed by the offensive fireworks was Jordan Montgomery‘s brilliant performance. He fired six scoreless innings and surrendered just three hits, the fourth time in 10 career starts that he’s given up no more than three hits.

That impressive outing earned the rookie southpaw a place in the franchise record books: Montgomery is the first pitcher in Yankees history to compile four starts of three-or-fewer hits allowed within his first 10 career games.

(AP)
(AP)

Two is not enough
Sunday’s disappointing loss dropped the Yankees to 3-4 halfway through their current 13-game stretch against AL East teams as they headed back to the Bronx to face the second-place Red Sox.

Taking a 2-0 lead into the sixth inning, the Yankees seemed primed to finish off their road trip on a high note. Entering Sunday they were 17-1 when leading by multiple runs at the end of the fifth inning, including a perfect 9-0 mark on the road.

Luis Severino was dominating the Blue Jays through five innings until Justin Smoak smoked (sorry!) an 85-mph slider 429 feet into the centerfield seats that tied the game at 2-2 in the sixth. The location of the pitch was obviously bad …

smoak-hr

… but that was a rare mistake with his signature breaking pitch this season. Severino had allowed an isolated power — that’s extra bases per at-bat — of just .061 on his slider entering Sunday, the fifth-lowest mark among starters (min. 200 pitches).

Aside from that blip, Severino was excellent, throwing seven innings of two-run ball while striking out seven. It was his seventh start this season with no more than two runs allowed and at least six strikeouts, putting him in some very impressive company: the only other pitchers this season with seven such starts are Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.

Yankeemetrics: Camden Yards, House of Horrors (May 29-31)

(AP)
(AP)

The Full Monty
The Orioles entered this week on a seven-game losing streak and playing their worst baseball of the season. Yet they were probably happy to see the Yankees coming to town given their recent run of success in Baltimore against their division rival.

After the 3-2 loss on Memorial Day, the Yankees dropped to a miserable 8-23 at Camden Yards since 2014, the second-worst mark at the ballpark among all American League teams over the past four seasons; only the Indians (2-8) have been worse.

Jordan Montgomery struggled early, needing 34 pitches to navigate the first inning, and that inefficiency foreshadowed the rest of his labored performance. He consistently fell behind hitters and got into deep counts, reaching a full count on seven (!) of 23 batters. That’s the most full counts faced by any Yankee pitcher this season – and he did it while pitching only 4 1/3 innings.

The lone offensive highlight came from the bat of – no surprise – Aaron Judge, who sent a screaming line drive into the center field seats in the seventh inning. It was Judge’s 17th blast of the season as he moved into first place on the MLB home run leaderboard.

If he can maintain that top ranking, he’d join a select group of Yankee outfielders to win the major-league home run title: Roger Maris (1961), Mickey Mantle (1956), Joe DiMaggio (1937) and Babe Ruth (nine times … LOL).

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Bald Bombers
The Yankees got their offensive mojo back on Tuesday as they pounded out 14 hits and hammered the Orioles, 8-3. It was their 15th game scoring eight-or-more runs, the most in the AL and tied with the Rockies for the MLB lead entering Wednesday. The last season that the Yankees scored eight-plus runs this many times before their 50th game was 1998, a pretty good year if we remember correctly.

Four of the 14 hits left the ballpark, with Brett Gardner and Matt Holliday each going deep twice. Those were the 10th and 11th homers of the season for both guys, making the Yankees the first AL team this season to have three players reach double-digit homers.

For Gardner, it was his third game with at least two homers this season – which somehow gave him the most multi-homer games among all AL players through Tuesday. He also became just the third player in franchise history to have three or more multi-homer games while hitting out of the leadoff spot, joining Alfonso Soriano (2002) and Bobby Bonds (1975).

Holliday’s two-homer night was less surprising but still put his name on a fun list of Yankee designated hitters to hit two-plus homers in at Camden Yards: Gary Sheffield (2005), Jason Giambi (2002) and Darryl Strawberry (1996) are the others.

Gardner and Holliday were the first Yankee teammates to homer twice in the same game since … May 2 when Gardner and Judge each went deep twice against the Blue Jays. Over the last 60 years, there’s been just one other season in which the Yankees had two games where two players hit multiple homers: 2005.

Luis Severino continued to make his case as the early-season ace of the staff, lowering his ERA to 2.93. He scattered seven singles over 6 1/3 innings, and most of those hits were weak grounders that never left the dirt or somehow found holes through the infield. The average exit velocity on batted balls against Severino was 82.4 mph, the lowest mark for any start in his career. As you can see in this batted ball spray chart from Tuesday’s start, there’s a ton of blue (low exit velocity) and barely any red (high exit velocity):

luis-severino-1

Following his gem against the Orioles, Severino has five starts with no more than one earned run allowed while striking out at least six batters. The only other pitchers in the majors to have five such starts (through Tuesday) were Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Ervin Santana and Dallas Keuchel.

Deja Vu, Terrible Tanaka
Camden Yards, once known as Yankee Stadium South, has officially become a House of Horrors for the team up north. The Yankees have lost 11 straight series at the ballpark after getting blown out by the O’s on Wednesday night. That’s the second-longest road series losing skid against any opponent in franchise history, behind only a 12-series streak at Oakland from 1985-91.

How long has it been since the Yankees celebrated a series win in the Charm City? The last time Yankees won a series at Camden Yards, Mariano Rivera was the winning pitcher in the series-clinching game on September 12, 2013.

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Orioles broke the game open with a four-run third inning, though Masahiro Tanaka did reach a milestone in that ugly frame. He whiffed Manny Machado on a slider for the second out, the 500th career strikeout of his career. Tanaka is the fifth Yankee to reach 500 Ks within his first four major-league seasons, a group that includes Andy Pettitte, Lefty Gomez, Orlando Hernandez and Mel Stottlemyre.

That was the lone highlight for Tanaka, who got shelled for seven runs on nine hits before exiting in the sixth inning. It was the third time in 11 starts this season he allowed at least seven earned runs; in his first three major-league campaigns, spanning 75 starts, he never gave up more than six earned runs in any outing.

This awful performance capped a miserable month of May for Tanaka: six starts, 8.42 ERA, 11 HR, 48 hits, 31 innings pitched. The most glaring number from that mess is the 11 homers, which ties the most ever by a Yankee pitcher in a calendar month. The good news is that the guy he matched is named Ron Guidry (September 1985). The bad news is that he allowed 11 freaking home runs in 31 innings. Welp.

The two Aarons and thinking about a new top of the lineup

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Once upon a time, I was a lineup complainer. The lineup would be posted each day at 4pm-ish and I’d complain about it. So and so is hitting too low, this guy is hitting too high, why is bench player flavor of the week not playing, that sort of stuff. A few times a year the Yankees would play the “ideal” lineup. Otherwise it was the same story, day after day. The lineup stinks and I was Mad Online.

I’ve outgrown that, thankfully. Daily lineup complaints are no way to go through life. As long as Joe Girardi doesn’t do something crazy like bat his best hitter ninth (which he never does and would never do), whatever lineup he runs out there is fine with me. So this post shouldn’t construed as me complaining about the lineup. This is more of a rational discussion about the batting order nearly one-third of the way through the season.

For the most part, I think we can all agree on one thing regarding the lineup: Brett Gardner should lead off, and Chase Headley and Chris Carter should bat eighth and ninth, really in either order. I guess that’s three things. Anyway, that stuff is straight forward. Gardner is, yet again, one of the team’s best on-base players and count-workers. Headley and Carter have been terrible and should get the fewest at-bats. Simple, right? Right.

The few spots beyond Gardner are what I really want to discuss. This is my ideal top of the lineup right now, given the available personnel:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. RF Aaron Judge

The three outfielders, left to right. Gary Sanchez has been hitting second most of the season and I am totally cool with that. It works for me. Sanchez has looked a little jumpy at the plate the last few days, but I’m not worried. Hitters go through their ups and downs. Sanchez is one of the team’s best hitters, so by all means, hit him second. Josh Donaldson and Kris Bryant won MVPs hitting second in recent years. Power hitters can hit there too.

That said, I like Hicks hitting second over Sanchez right now because, well, Hicks has been the better hitter this season. The better overall hitter and, more importantly, the better on-base threat. Hicks has a .426 OBP this year. Sanchez has a .356 OBP. That’s still good! But it’s not .426. Batting Hicks second means more runners on base for Judge, who has inarguably been the Yankees’ best hitter this season.

Judge started the season hitting lower in the lineup and understandably so, but he’s forced his way up, and now he is in entrenched as the No. 5 hitter. Moving Judge up even further to the No. 3 spot means more at-bats. More at-bats over the course of the season, and a better chance to get Judge that one extra at-bat in an individual game. Through 48 team games the No. 3 spot has 14 more plate appearances than the No. 5 spot for the Yankees. That’s 14 more times Judge would have come to the plate in the late innings. It’s not nothing!

We’re not splitting atoms here. Hicks (.426), Judge (.419), and Gardner (.363) have the three highest OBPs on the Yankees. They make fewer outs than anyone else. Judge is also one of the game’s top power threats. Batting Gardner and Hicks first and second is, by far, the best way to get men on base for Judge. Batting these three atop the lineup also means they get the most at-bats, therefore giving the Yankees more chances to score.

Going with Gardner-Hicks-Judge atop the lineup and Headley-Carter at the bottom leaves you Sanchez, Starlin Castro, Matt Holliday, and Didi Gregorius for the 4-5-6-7 spots. What’s the best way to order them? I’m not sure there’s a wrong answer. I’d prefer hitting Sanchez fourth because I think he’s most likely to be an impact bat the rest of the season, but if you said the same thing about Castro or Holliday, I wouldn’t argue (much).

The important thing, as far as I’m concerned, is getting Judge more at-bats because because the guy is a monster, and the more he plays, the better the Yankees’ chances to win. Jacoby Ellsbury‘s concussion — Girardi said yesterday Ellsbury is still experiencing headaches, so he remains shut down indefinitely — ensures Hicks will be in the lineup everyday, and as long as he’s hitting like this, Hicks is the perfect No. 2 hitter. On-base ability, power, speed, switch-hitter, the whole nine. Perfect.

The lineup almost seems to write itself from there. Gardner leads off, Hicks hits second, Judge hits third. Your two best on-base players and your most devastating hitter. Sanchez, Holliday, Castro, and Gregorius add quality lineup depth through the No. 7 spot too. I get why Girardi hits Sanchez second, Holliday third, and Castro fourth. I do. But nearly 50 games into the season, it’s the clear the more Aaron Judge hits with men on base, the better. The lineup should be built in such a way that maximizes those opportunities.

Yankeemetrics: Smallball, longball down A’s (May 26-28)

(Getty)
(Getty)

Welcome back, Masa-Hero
Friday’s game may have been a 4-1 loss in the standings, but it was a victory in the minds and eyes of the Yankees and their fans thanks to the spectacular performance by Masahiro Tanaka.

Tanaka looked like an ace again as he mowed down Oakland’s lineup, dominating them with his devastating signature splitter/slider combo. He set career-highs in strikeouts (13) and swinging strikes (26), displaying the top-of-rotation stuff that had been missing in the first month and a half of the season.

The 26 swings-and-misses were the second-most by any Yankee pitcher in the past decade, one shy of the 27 that CC Sabathia got on June 7, 2012 against the Rays. Each of the 13 punchouts were via a strike-three whiff, matching Sabathia (June 30, 2012 vs. Brewers) for the most swinging strikeouts in a game by any Yankee pitcher over the last 10 years.

Eight of the 13 strikeouts came on his sharp, late-breaking slider, and the other five were on filthy splitters that dropped out of the zone:

masahiro-tanaka-13-k

The improved depth of his splitter was one of the biggest keys to Tanaka’s domination on Friday night. He threw 25 splitters and located those pitches an average of 1.82 feet below the middle of the strike zone. That was his lowest vertical location for the splitter in any game this season, netting him 10 whiffs and silly swings like this one from Ryon Healy in the seventh inning:

halfelectricfoal

So that was the good news from Friday night.

Unfortunately, there was some bad news too. The Yankee bats went cold once again and the bullpen suffered another inexplicable meltdown, allowing three runs plus an inherited runner to score. Tanaka’s final line of 7 1/3 innings, 13 strikeouts, no walks and one run made him not only a hard-luck loser, but also etched his name in the record books.

It was just the third time a Yankee pitcher struck out at least 13 batters in a game and got the loss. The other two were done by Roger Clemens: June 17, 1999 against the Rangers and May 28, 2000 against the Red Sox in an epic duel with Pedro Martinez.

Even more incredible is this #FunFact: Tanaka is the first pitcher in Yankee history to get the loss in a game where he had at least 13 strikeouts, no more than one run allowed and zero walks.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Two close for comfort
Thanks a third straight solid outing by CC Sabathia and justenough offense, the Yankees bounced back to win the middle game of this three-game series, 3-2.

This was only the second time in the last 60 seasons that the Yankees won a game in the Bronx with no more than two hits. It also happened on Sept. 9, 1988, when Claudell Washington hit a walk-off homer to beat the Tigers (the other hit was a Rickey Henderson triple in sixth inning).

The decisive blow on Saturday was delivered by Matt Holliday, who ended Jharel Cotton’s no-hit bid and broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth inning with one swing of the bat, crushing a two-run homer to left. It was his ninth homer of the season and team-best sixth dinger that either gave the Yankees a lead or tied the game.

Sabathia pitched into the seventh inning, allowing two runs while striking out a season-high nine batters. Four of the nine strikeouts — including three that were looking — came with his slider, which has routinely frozen hitters this season. He’s gotten called strikes on 23.2 percent of his sliders thrown, the fourth-best rate among starters (min. 100 pitches).

Dellin Betances was the end-of-game hero as he escaped a second-and-third, one-out jam in the eighth inning by striking out the next two batters, and then easily retired all three guys he faced in the ninth. The last Yankee to inherit at least two baserunners and get a perfect save of at least five outs? Mariano Rivera on April 23, 2008 vs. the White Sox.

(@Yankees)
(@Yankees)

Your Honor, the Grand Jury is in session
The Bronx Bombers returned to form on Sunday afternoon in 9-5, series-clinching win that pushed their AL East lead to a season-high three games. This is just the fourth time in the Wild Card era that the Yankees have entered play on Memorial Day in sole possession of first place in the division. The other three times it happened – 1996, 1998, 2001 – they made the World Series and won it twice.

On the mound, Michael Pineda struggled with his command (season-high three walks) but showed his toughness in limiting the A’s to three runs in six innings. It was his ninth straight start allowing three earned runs or fewer, one shy of the longest streak by an AL pitcher this season (both Michael Fulmer and Derek Holland have 10-start streaks).

Aaron Judge provided the power with his first career grand slam in the third inning to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 5-2 lead. He was the first Yankee right-fielder to go yard with the bases loaded against the A’s since Paul O’Neill on April 5, 1997. And the 25-year-old slugger is the youngest Yankee to hit a grand slam at Yankee Stadium since Nick Johnson (24 years old) on Aug. 8, 2003 vs. Mariners.

While it’s hard to believe that a rookie can keep up this pace – with 16 homers in the team’s first 47 games – let’s have some fun with numbers …

  • 1921 Babe Ruth through 47 team games: 16 homers (finished with 59)
  • 1927 Babe Ruth through 47 team games: 17 homers (finished with 60)
  • 1961 Roger Maris through 47 team games: 15 homers (finished with 61)

Yankeemetrics: Roughed up in Tampa (May 19-21)

(AP)
(AP)

No relief
In a season defined by so many improbable wins and stunning comebacks, the Yankees fell just short of adding another one on Friday night, falling 5-4 to the Rays. It was just the Yankees’ fifth loss this season when holding a lead at any point in the game, the fewest in the AL and second-fewest in the majors behind the Rockies (3) after Friday’s slate.

Luis Severino struggled early but gave the Yankees five solid innings and a chance to win the game, exiting with a 2-1 lead. He threw 30 pitches in the first inning and 59 in the next four frames, allowing just one run on five hits while striking out seven.

Severino’s slider was in peak form, generating a career-high 11 whiffs on 24 swings (45.8%) among the 42 sliders he threw. The pitch netted him four of his seven strikeouts and four of his five groundball outs, as he mostly buried it at the knees while also mixing in a few swing-and-miss sliders up in the zone:

luis-severino

His slider has emerged as one of the nastiest in baseball this season. The pitch has been responsible for a total of 36 strikeouts and 25 groundball outs in 2017; both of those numbers were the second-most among all pitchers through Friday, trailing only Chris Archer (48 strikeouts, 36 groundball outs).

Severino’s gutsy performance was wasted, though, as the bullpen imploded and blew the lead late. The Rays’ rally was capped by a tie-breaking RBI single in the eighth inning off the bat of notable Yankee killer, Evan Longoria. Friend of Yankeemetrics, Mark Simon, tells us that it was Longoria’s 13th career game-winning RBI against the Yankees, which is the most among active players.

Before Longoria’s hit, it looked like Matt Holliday might wear the hero’s cape. His two-run homer in the top of the eighth knotted the game at 4-4, and was his first game-tying homer in the eighth inning or later in more than seven years (April 11, 2010 vs. Brewers).

Even more impressive is that the pitch he crushed was a 100-mph fastball from Ryan Stanek, the fastest pitch hit out of the ballpark by any player this season. Prior to the at-bat, Holliday was just 2-for-10 (.200) with three strikeouts in at-bats ending in a 100-plus-mph pitch dating back to 2008.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Tanaka The Terrible
There is no sugarcoating the fact that Saturday’s loss might have been the ugliest of the season. The numerous ejections, the beanball war that erupted in the late innings and the glacial pace of the game were mere footnotes in what has easily become the Yankees biggest worry of the season:

Tanaka was clobbered yet again, giving up three homers and six runs before getting pulled with no outs in the fourth inning. This disaster performance somehow was an improvement statistically on his last start a week ago against the Astros, when he gave up even more runs (8) and homers (4) and pitched fewer innings (1 2/3).

That string of back-to-back train wreck outings put him in ignominious company: he is the only pitcher in Yankee history to allow at least six earned runs and three homers in consecutive games while getting fewer than 10 outs in each game. In fact the only other player in major-league history to do that was Mike Lincoln for the Twins in 2000.

Any way you slice it, his recent numbers are awful:

  • Dating back to the fifth inning of his May 2 start vs the Blue Jays, Tanaka has coughed up 10 homers and 22 runs in his last 14 innings pitched.
  • Dating back to the seventh inning of his May 8 start at Cincinnati, he’s surrendered 16 (!) runs and eight (!) homers in his last 5 2/3 innings pitched.

One of the few highlights was yet another dinger by Aaron Judge, his league-leading 15th of the season. He is one of five Yankees to hit at least 15 homers in the team’s first 40 games, joining this exclusive group of sluggers: A-Rod (2007), Tino Martinez (1997), Mickey Mantle (1956) and Babe Ruth (four times).

Super-Judge (AP)
Super-Judge (AP)

Strikeouts are overrated
The Yankees avoided the sweep and snapped their three-game losing streak with a 3-2 win on Sunday. Despite the Yankee victory, the Rays remain the only AL team with a winning record against the Yankees since 2010 (71-68).

Brett Gardner delivered the game-clinching blast with his tie-breaking two-run homer in the second inning. It was his eighth longball of the season, surpassing the number he put over the fence all of last year (in 148 games and 634 plate appearances). All eight of his homers have come since April 29; the only player with homers in that span is Dodgers rookie Cody Bellinger (9).

They overcame a whopping 17 strikeouts, tying the franchise record for a nine-inning game, done three times previously, including once already this season (3-2 win over St. Louis on April 15). They are the only team in major-league history to win two nine-inning games when striking out at least 17 times in a single season.

The heart of the order — 3-4-5 batters — were the biggest culprits, fanning 11 times in 12 at-bats. Matt Holliday and Aaron Judge were both 0-for-4 with four Ks, becoming the first set of Yankee teammates to whiff four-plus times in a non-extra-inning game. This was also the first time in any game (regardless of innings) that the Yankees had two players go hitless and strike out at least four times.

Judge redeemed himself in the field, with a spectacular game-saving catch and double play, robbing Evan Longoria of extra bases with a man on in the sixth inning.

Entering the day, Judge ranked second in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved (6) among rightfielders behind the Cubs’ Jason Heyward (7).